I made Teryk a rich man. He gave me many spoils, but I hungered for more. What he gave me wasn’t enough. There was always more. He laughed whenever I asked for more. So, I plotted his demise.
-writing on the cell wall
The Dirty Pig Tavern was just as dirty as its name. Dirt and filth covered the creaky, scuffed wooden floor and the tables had been dusted over so many times no one really knew what the tops looked like. The chairs were more like stools now with no back to them and what cushion was left was torn with stuffing pouring out. The walls were grimy and streaked with dirt, blood, and fossilized feces. Human or animal, no one was quite sure anymore. The plates, glasses, and silverware were stained beyond belief and everyone was quite sure they hadn’t been cleaned in ages. It smelled worse than a pig sty, full of foul human and animal odors, all topped with the eternal wafting scent of alcohol. But the wine and beer were good and the food had yet to kill anyone, so no one complained. There was really no one to complain to, anyways. The bartenders and managers changed almost nightly.
The Thief Lords didn’t particularly care, though. They used the space above the bar. It was a wide open space with only the outer walls to hem them in. There was an assortment of tables, chairs, and stools scattered around. Usually they sat in chaos, but, with the Thief Lords, they marched around in a circle so the Lords and their advisers could keep an eye on each other. The fireplace at one end was, miraculously, still working and Edvin had made sure a glowing fire lit the room and exuded a more pleasant aroma to try to mask the stench downstairs. Lanterns and scented candles were settled around as well. The more light to see each other by, the better.
Edvin had taken his place opposite the stairs. There was no door; the stairs just ended and one ended up in the large, drafty space. He liked this seat so he could watch everyone else enter and they could play their staring power game with him until they had to look away to claim a seat. Ever loyal, Zyno was by his side, studying every detail with a hawk’s eye.
All the way into the slums, they could hear the Needle City Tower Clock chime midnight. The deep sound of the gong still rang long after the strike had ended, echoing through the streets of the city. Edvin smiled to himself. The others would be arriving soon.
Aven, sans Raven, was the first to arrive. He was always the first arrival, even if it was Raven who was hosting. Raven was always the last to arrive, making a fashionably late appearance just as a noble lady might. The girl carried herself too highly, but, they did fear her to some extent. After all, she had killed three Thief Lords and had escaped numerous assassination attempts. The girl was practically untouchable. Hate her they did, but stand in awe of her they must.
Edvin watched as Aven prowled around the chairs. He always picked out the best seats for himself and his mistress. And no one dared touch Aven. It meant certain death. Of all the advisers, Aven was the most protected. Raven was always watching out for him, and they never knew just from where she was watching.
“Aven,” Zyno said, nodding in greeting.
“Zyno,” Aven returned as he settled into a chair to Zyno and Edvin’s left. The advisers never greeted nor were greeted by the Thief Lords.
They waited in silence. The only sounds were the flickering of the fire and the creaks and yells and pounds from the tavern below. They waited patiently, each hardly daring to draw a breath. Neither did they meet each other’s eyes. It just wasn’t done.
There was really only so much to fear. Weapons weren’t allowed and each Thief Lord had two of their following waiting at the Tavern’s door to check each Thief Lord and each adviser for secreted weapons. Edvin and Zyno had already been through and hadn’t been happy when Corinn’s two had been late to the tavern. It only meant a delay to the host in entering the meeting space. And it always grated on their nerves. But trust Corinn to do that every time.
Deryk was the next to enter, along with his adviser Kyna. He nodded to the others in greeting and took a seat opposite Aven. Kyna sat beside him, leaning back and resting an ankle on a knee. For a woman, the only female adviser, she acted more like a man. Her delicate feminine features and long raven dark hair, though, made her look like a delicate young woman. She was older than Raven, though, and had served as Deryk’s adviser for nearly fifteen years. No other adviser had spent so long as such. Kyna, for all her beauty and age, was almost as deadly as Raven could be. The two women, though, respected each other and had an unspoken, unsteady agreement to not hurt each other. After all, Raven respected Kyna as the first and only female adviser and Kyna secretly worshiped the only female Thief Lord in all of history. It was because of that that Deryk was always on his toes around his adviser. She was good at what she did and he trusted her, but he didn’t trust her enough to not pull a Raven and slit his throat to become the second female Thief Lord. But most Thief Lords did tend to keep their largest threat as close as possible: as adviser.
Five minutes passed before Corinn and his adviser Quin made their way upstairs. He was always trying to push it, or push Raven, rather, wanting more than anything to be the last one. No one ever saw Raven and where she came from, but they all assumed by now that she was watching from somewhere nearby, so always knew when all the others had arrived.
With a frown, Corinn flung his cloak over the chair with its back to the stairs. Quin, a large grizzled man with long graying black hair and beard sat beside his master. His keen green eyes swept over the rest of the group and he nodded to the other three advisers. He had served as Corinn’s adviser for three years and was the newest of them. He was a secretive man and Corinn never talked about him, so they didn’t know much about this mountain man. All they knew was that he was not originally from Needle City.
They didn’t have to wait long for Raven to enter. She walked in with her usual cat-like grace and made her way to Aven’s side without looking at anyone. Dressed in her customary full black, she was more like a moving shadow with nothing casting that shadow. She looked at each one of them, Thief Lord and adviser, in turn, staring at each for no longer nor no less than ten seconds. Seemingly satisfied, she settled back in her chair and let Aven watch out for them. After all, that’s what the man did best. He always looked out for her. Always.